New Research Testing How Automation Could Make Offshore Oil Rigs Safer | Tech News

Working on an offshore oil rig comes with significant risks. Explosions have caused employee deaths and resulted in long-lasting environmental damage.

Despite industry regulations, the danger remains. Now, researchers hope automation could play a primary role in increasing safety.

Oil platform. Image credit: Zukiman Mohamad via Pexels, CC0 Public Domain

Automation to Play a Proactive Role in Increasing Safety

Scientists know because major oil rig disasters keep happening, it’s necessary to stop accidents before they occur. Predictive insights could help, and scientists think that greater reliance on automation could make oil ringers safer.

Using automation for that purpose in the oil and gas industry is still considered a radical concept. Plus, scientists have not settled on a single method of using automation in the sector. Instead, they’ve put forth several possibilities, all intended to prevent loss of life and property.

One involves becoming less dependent on humans for specific tasks. Later this year, an oil rig in the North Sea will make history by becoming the first to depend on an autonomous robot to carry out inspections and look for gas leaks. In addition to reducing human risks, robots can handle ongoing checks, making it less likely for problems to not get spotted before it’s too late.

The robot’s trial run will evaluate how the machine handles the harsh conditions of an offshore site, plus how it works around humans.

Concerning smaller oil rigs, scientists are exploring the method of Asset Integrity Monitoring. It provides continuous live footage of offshore rigs via sensors placed inside or near the equipment. Then, all the collected material gets wirelessly sent to a central platform.

At that point, specialists can analyze vast amounts of equipment on a rig simultaneously, thereby gathering information about the overall condition of an offshore setup and evaluating the level of risk. That allows for making proactive decisions to keep operations running as they could and avoiding the consequences of problems that go unnoticed.

Previous Accidents Motivated Regulatory Efforts

The 1988 Piper Alpha disaster killed 167 people and spurred the oil and gas industry to become substantially stricter about assessing the safety and risk of offshore installations.

Another tragic incident in 2010 impacted the Deepwater Horizon installation in the Gulf of Mexico. Besides causing the deaths of 11 people, the event caused enormous issues for the environment due to an underwater geyser of oil that persisted for 87 days. Investigators found that the cause of that explosion was a faulty piece of machinery that seals, controls and monitors the output of oil or gas.

People who use oil to heat their homes know they must take precautions during the summer months to prevent the tanks from rusting. Rust inside a tank could contribute to leaks and damage home heating equipment. This example clarifies why even seemingly small factors can cause big problems, even for consumers.  The risk for issues goes up with oil rig operations, which are massive.

Depending on how automation efforts progress, they could not only keep oil rigs safer but also be applied in homes to give alerts when people need to contact experts to schedule maintenance appointments.

Administration Effects

Although the industry revisited its regulations after every offshore accident, it got assistance from Barack Obama in 2016. During his presidency, the Obama administration came up with new offshore drilling regulations, including stipulations for better safety equipment and more independent inspectors.

As people have seen since President Trump took office, new administrations can swiftly change or remove aspects put in place by previous U.S. leaders. And indeed, Trump plans to make the current regulations less stringent, citing “unnecessary burdens” on the oil and gas sector.

Automation Is Costly

The automation initiatives above sound promising, but it’s critical that scientists take care to apply the appropriate high-tech measures to the ideal kinds of work. For example, at this point, it’s cheaper to send a human to check an offshore rig than let a robot do the task.

The best use cases for automation involve applying it to the offshore oil rig jobs that pose the highest risk.

Then, the additional expense is worthwhile, because it keeps people safer and helps the planet.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.

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